I was your age the first time I fell in love. I found this book at the library that reached into my chest and grabbed my heart and when it was over, I remember looking around, a little shell shocked, wondering if anyone else had felt their entire world move.
The book was full of lots of things: horses and magic and bravery and new worlds and, most importantly, adventure. I don’t know if the book was the seed or if it was the water or the sun or the plant food that comes with the flowers you get from the grocery store but I do know that it took root in my ribs and grew like a weed and, because of it, all I ever wanted since has been to have adventure.
I spent a lot of my time growing up dreaming about the day that I’d get to go out and have my own adventures. But one thing the books don’t prepare you for, the stories about orphans who have little reason to stay, is how hard it is when you have lots of brothers and sisters and cousins and friends and aunts and uncles and a mom and a dad and grandparents to leave behind. It takes a lot of courage to fight the dragon but it takes just as much bravery to take that first step. The months and weeks and days leading up to my first big adventure I was so scared I was sure it was a mistake.
The first time I went away, to Montana, you cried every time we talked on the phone. Do you remember? You were only four. The next time, in Spain, I wrote you postcards from every city I went to. If I have any sort of legacy to leave it’s those postcards, the receipts of my adventures. Now, I get to watch you dream of your own adventures: more trips to DC, traveling to Alaska and Spain and everywhere in between.
When your mom was pregnant, I would stare at her stomach and say, over and over, “There’s a person in there. That’s crazy! Like, a real live person. Inside of your body is another body that’s one day going to be a person with a personality who makes decisions and thinks and has the possibility of curing cancer. And its inside of you!” Before you were even born, I was struck dumb by your potential.
And then, ten years ago today, there you were! A squalling, crying, flesh-and-bone person, just brimming with possibility. I’ve been enchanted ever since.
I think there’s all sorts of magic in the world. For me, I’ve always found magic in the way someone can take everyday words and string them together to make a sentence that changes a ten year old girl’s world. There’s magic in the way you do something that you really love, like play the piano or kick a soccer ball or watch a sunrise. There’s magic in the way Papa can fix anything and Beppe can make anyone feel like family. There’s magic in the way your mom manages to keep us all together. There’s magic in believing in something: in God or yourself or more magic.
When I went to Spain, I wrote you a letter. I said that I wanted you to have options. I wanted you to see all of the things that you could be when you grew up. You have your mom to show you what love and a family looks like, to teach you about roots and home and safety. You have Aunt Hannah to show you what ambition, brains, and beauty looks like if you want to rule the world. And you have me to show you what adventure looks like if you want to do just about anything else. Because all adventure is is being brave enough to take that first step.
Nearly four years later, those things are still true. Whatever you decide, whatever you want to be in life, whether you want your adventures to be far away or close to home, I want you to know that I am wholly, unequivocally, forever on your side. I want you to have options. I want you to know that the world is wide and your possibility infinite. I want you to know that you are made of magic.
Happy birthday, baby girl. I’m sending you your own copy of that book that changed my life. I don’t expect you to fall in love with it the way I did but I hope you enjoy it. I hope it reminds you to look for and find your own magic.
All my love, from my toes to my nose,